By on December 19, 2012
I’m finishing up a Masters in Biomedical Engineering and moving out to the Midwest, hopefully job offer in hand.  My parents are graciously handing me down our old family car: a well worn 1998 Mazda MPV Allsport 4wd which I have maintained with my brother since we’ve had it.
Most recently, I learned how to replace a staked in u joint and balance a driveshaft using a pair of hose clamps (works like a charm).  The car’s got 142k miles on it, and seems to constantly need minor repairs, nothing that would leave me stranded yet, but I’m OCD about every accessory on my car working and that it be kept in tip top shape cosmetically.  To this end, I’ve been fighting the losing battle against rust, undercoating the car with oil, and I’ve welded patch panels on the front fender bottoms and rocker panels.

Additionally, parts tend to be hard to find and expensive for this car, everything has to be ordered from OEM suppliers.  This spring I’m going to replace the A/C drier (there’s excessive moisture in the system) and apply POR15 to the underside.  The car’s a fantastic highway cruiser, with a perfect seating position, I can drive 10 hours and not be fatigued.  At the same time, highway fuel economy is only in the 19-20 mpg range, city driving is 15.  The interior is cavernous, and that’ll be useful when I move all my things out.

My question: Do I fix it up one more time and sell it? Then buy another used car (open to suggestions) with better fuel economy and with less to go wrong (all the 4wd hardware, dual A/C system, moonroof, etc)? Or do I keep the car, living with the subpar fuel economy and the potential for things going wrong without me having a garage to work on them (will probably live in an apartment).

Thanks!

Steve Says:

The 1st gen MPV’s suffered from slipshod transmissions, excessive lifter noise, abysmal fuel economy, 1980’s era aerodynamics, and overmatched engines.

Sounds like the perfect beater to me!

Seriously, you need to get an extra pair of eyes to look at this vehicle and see if you missed any big gaping holes or fluid leakage. If I remember right, these models like to leave puddle on the ground a bit once they get right around the 10 year mark.

Is everything sorta kinda good? Then keep it.

You may want to sell it if you find that your biggest deduction from your new paycheck turns out to be all things automotive. But let’s face facts here. You have no job security at the moment. None. So why the heck would you buy something else?

I would keep the MPV for a long while. If your commute is short, I would even keep it until it croaks. Or at least the point where the cost of repairs exceeds the price of another one just like it. These things have even less demand than the other boxy rear-wheel-drive vans of that era. The Astro was a great work vehicle. The Aerostar was great because it is primarily made up of parts from the Ford surplus bin.

The MPV was…long lived.

I will offer one compliment. Your van is probably the closest thing to a Volvo 240 wagon  Mazda will ever make. It’s an underpowered RWD vehicle… but without the hip factor. It’s great because they are cheap to buy and if you know how to fix em’, you can keep em’. Which is what a beater should be all about.

Good luck!

Sajeev says:

You got a free car that you can fix yourself.  Yeah, you need to keep this thing until it either dies or until you are sure you have a good job with the prospect of being paid long enough to stomach a long-term car payment.

Why? Because I don’t see a Mazda MPV in this condition being worth much more than scrap to anyone, running or not.

Start thinking about what is a reasonable budget for your next ride, and dream about it until the MPV kicks the bucket.

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32 Comments on “New Or Used: The MPV For The M.Ed. Edition...”


  • avatar
    gslippy

    Use this beater to move your stuff, then trade it immediately. You won’t be able to maintain it if you’re an apartment dweller.

    Commit some of your new salary to a new car with a warranty. You’ll have one less thing to worry about, since life is already bringing you a lot of others: a new town, new job, new digs, and new friends.

    Congratulations on finishing your education and beginning a promising career!

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Spot on fellas. Keep er going as long as you can tolerate it or a great deal on another, slightly better, beater comes along.

  • avatar
    Charles T

    That should be a M. Eng., not M.Ed.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I was actually considering an All Sport MPV as a secondary car for the winter, since it combines (to me) the space of a van with the shape of a smallish SUV. I think it’s one of the more interesting cars Mazda attempted. That said, constant small/pricy niggles aren’t my cup of tea, so I’ll keep looking for something else.

    I’m also considering a late 90s Subaru product, or perhaps a nice condition 00-01 Bravada. Can’t find a nice Trooper around here, and I feel a Montero (<02) would be many-faulted as well.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      The Mazda really is a unique car in many ways. I like to think of it as one of the first CUVs :P This summer I built a wooden platform that leveled out the floor once all the rear seats were out. Took it up to Michigan and used it as a poor man’s RV, the gf and I loved it!

      I have snow tires on mine, it is an absolute tank in the winter, I take it cross country skiiing and it shrugs off 1+ feet of snow :) Of course, it also gets 12-14 mpg when used in this capacity.

      I find that as they age, older 4×4 Japanese SUVs become VERY maintenance intensive. Transfer cases, axles, extra heater and a/c lines, sunroofs, timing belts, etc. when I was selling the Mazda (before changing my mind), I really wanted a newer Montero Limited. Once I realized that I would basically be getting the same car in terms of hardware that would need fixing later down the line (not to mention identical fuel economy) I backed away.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Maybe I should go with a lower-mile American option then. I hate the constant $250 repairs. The MPV I looked at needed a cleaning, new timing belt, AC compressor, and had some body dent issues.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        CoreyDL,

        Be aware that A/C system repairs can easily hit $1K+ if the old compressor has grenaded and contaminated the system with metallic debris. Sometimes the evaporator(s) have to be replaced due to being clogged – the solvent flushes can’t unstick metal bits from the tiny tubes).

        I always deduct $1K from the asking price for any used vehicle I am looking at that doesn’t have working A/C.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Yeah I told the guy it was just too tired for me, and that the AC combined with timing belt needs was more trouble than it was worth.

        For the record, 205K miles and he was asking $1950. He claimed “well maintained” but I was seriously doubting it.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Well with 205k miles, a truly ‘well maintained’ MPV would have 35k left until the next timing belt is due, 60k is the recommended interval. Additionally, inoperable A/C is incompatible with ‘well maintained’ in my book.

        If I was in the market for a low-buck SUV, I’d be looking at older Tahoes. Just about one of the most ubiquitous platforms around, and they are durable and simple to fix. If it does need serious engine or transmission work, just about any small town will have a mechanic well versed in 4L60E and small block chevy rebuilding. With current gas prices, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a well maintained example for a reasonable amount.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Well I’m in Ohio. The “cheaper” ones here have usually 175+k miles, and rust, and an interior which looks like a dog lived in.

        There’s a tidy 96 2-door, but the miles say “very high” so I haven’t called, ha.

        Yes the MPV hadn’t had the timing belt done since 120k, he had few records, and when I asked where the most recent services were done he said “I don’t know.”

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Very cool to see my question pop up!! To update my situation:

    Since then, I’ve completed my Masters, and gotten a decent paying job locally in NY. The Mazda has gotten all its issues addressed, A/C blew cold all summer, I also replaced the worn out rear air shocks with a fresh set (just $60 for the pair, and my auto load leveling still works). The car has 155k on it, I’ve been racking up miles driving to and from Indiana visiting my gf. The car currently needs new e-brake cables (another surprisingly expensive and hard to get part for these cars). Despite the less than stellar fuel economy and slow trickle of repairs, the car is cheap to own on a $/mile basis. Transmission feels strong. It’s the same jatco that was in a number of 90s rwd japanese cars, I haven’t heard of any issues on units that had the fluid changed every so often, as is the case with mine. The engine does have the notorious lash adjuster tick, but it’s not an actual problem, just a slight annoyance. The usual oil leak culprits have all been addressed in the past 30k miles or so, and it hardly burns any at all.

    With all the money saved on payments, insurance, and frugal living in general since I started working, I now have enough in the bank to buy any number of new subcompacts or year old midsized cars with cash. The plan is still to move out to the midwest as soon as possible, my new quandry being whether to buy a starter home using my savings as nice downpayment. That way I’ll have a garage to keep my Mazda going! I do find myself slightly distrustful of the Mazda, for our upcoming roadtrip to Florida, the gf and I decided to take her brand new Camry just to play it safe and to save on gas. Plan B to buying a house is to buy a low mile 2012 Impala (they’re blowing these things out around here for $14k!), and rent for a while before plunging into home ownership. I briefly had my car up on craigslist this summer, and had people ready to pay my $4k asking price. When they saw how well maintained it was relative to just about every other car in the price range they were all over it. of course once I saw that it made no sense to sell my maintained used car just to buy an unmaintained used car I held on to the Mazda.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Thanks for the follow up. Sounds like you have no real issues maintaining a beater, and that equals BIG savings as you’ve found.

      Putting the savings into something that doesn’t depreciate (relative, I know) like real estate would probably be a decent move.

    • 0 avatar
      larrbo

      As a new home-owner and someone who was in the same quandary as you last year- DO NOT SELL YOUR VAN.

      There are many hidden costs to home ownership, and the rates are so low it’s just a waste to rent. The cargo capacity is huge plus when moving stuff too.

      Drop the OCD and just let the car’s condition go. Nothing lasts forever, but this van should go through a lot more miles at its current state (with fluid/tires/tune-ups). Drive it like you stole it, focus on the house, then buy a vehicle further down the line. If you’re welding patch panels and servicing a/c by yourself, this the way I would go.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        As a potential home buyer myself, what are some of the hidden costs you have encountered?

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I’ve definitely loosened up on the ‘OCD’ factor, I used to make repairs, sparing no cost on parts, no matter how small the issue was. I still wax the car twice a year and keep it looking as best as I can, but some (non safety related) repairs I delay or wait if the condition progresses. For example, my fan clutch makes a whining noise when cold as of a few months ago. After consulting with my brother (a seasoned MPV veteran, running a ’89 with the venerable 2600i 4cyl up to 225k+ and going), we decided to just try to lubricate the bearing as best we could and keep an eye on it. That’s easily $150 in parts for a refurb unit that I would have spent. Rust repairs are also a ‘hands off’ issue now. I apply Fluid Film on vulnerable spots, or places where rust is already present, but no more welding or sanding down/repainting I think. My speedometer needle was jittery, causing the accelerator to surge when using cruise control. Instead of ponying up for the $90 cable, I took the instrument cluster off and lubed the old cable. Another cheap fix!

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        28 Cars:

        As a 14-year owner of a 1977-built crapshack, anything can bite you, such as a sewer line blockage/collapse (usually caused by a tree root) which can be very expensive to repair. Termite damage can go undetected for years and cause eye-popping damage (interior wall studs eaten out, etc). Local assessments for infrastructure improvements are another one.

        And anything with water damage (broken pipe, leaky roof, leaky plastic water line to refrigerator icemaker, high ground water level) can get expensive really fast (esp. if you are on vacation when it occurs), and you have to be very careful about making any insurance claims relating to water damage – the industry maintains a claims database which could result in denial of coverage at a later time (they are extremely scared of mold-related claims that may result from earlier water damage).

        See this link for information on the C.L.U.E. database: http://oci.wi.gov/pub_list/pi-207.htm

        Sorry to get a bit OT – it is related to cars, in the sense that a house is a depreciating asset just like a car, and can get so run down that it can make sense at some point to just bulldoze it down and build a new one. I would seriously do that to my house if I could afford it! I keep it in decent condition, but certainly don’t put any more $ into it than I have to. The only thing that makes my house valuable is that it sits on land nearby a large software company whose workers like to live close to work!

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        @redmondjp

        Thank you for the extensive home information, after working in the car business and reading much about it, I tend to have a mental list of things to check for in a used car, and I think its good to have one for real estate too.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Nice followup. If you can get into a house with a garage, then keep the car going if you’re willing to do the work.

      Just don’t get taken on the house. In today’s market, you should be able to negotiate a good price.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        @redmondjp

        No worries from my end on the OT, this is the stuff I need to learn! I’ve mostly been eyeing pretty new constructions in subdivisions (plane jane cookie cutter type stuff surrounded by corn fields). Not much ‘character’ but it’ll do to start out with. In the area where I’m looking to relocate these houses are a dime a dozen in the $100-125k range. As with a used car purchase, my plan would be to set aside a sizable chunk of change for unexpected expenses that may crop up. The MPV is perfectly suited to Home Depot runs, 8x4s fit on the roof rack securely, and with the seats out I can fit any sort of bulky appliances. In a perfect world I’d have the house, keep the MPV as a workhorse, and then buy a fuel efficient sedan for commuting and long trips.

      • 0 avatar
        Rick T.

        Bank REO’s (real estate owned) can be great deals, depending on where you want to be. We got an incredible price on a house near Nashville by buying out of foreclosure but it’s not for everyone especially if you can’t put a lot down. I’ve never been a big fan of buying new in developments, especially if you are not staying long term or are one of the first buyers in. Too many comparables and you’ll be competing against newer or new homes in the same development at resale.

        A good home inspection is your friend and worth the cost on older homes. I always narrow down the house I want and then pay a couple hundred dollars for the inspection BEFORE making an offer. You have more leverage than when you are trying to negotiate downward after you’ve made the offer. And always, always, always make your offer subject to your attorney’s approval. Much easier to get out of the contract if you have second thoughts. And finally, make the amount of earnest money as small as possible so you can just walk away if necessary.

        Good luck!

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Oh, one important thing that I must mention: WATCH OUT for private streets/developments! I’m in one and there is ZERO upside – our cul-de-sac of six homes “owns” our own street, sidewalks, storm sewers, and sewage lift station (I could write a book on this one item alone, it would be found in either the horror or true crime section). Our property values are the same as everybody around us that are on public streets, we pay the same utility bills and property taxes, AND we have to maintain everything listed above out of our own pockets (estimated cost to repave our cul-de-sac $30-40K).

        There is absolutely no upside that I have been able to find. I wouldn’t do it again. It may be OK if it’s a new development (new asphalt, infrastructure, etc) and you only plan on staying for a few years, as you won’t likely have any expensive outlays during your stay there. HOA dues are the reverse gift that keeps on taking too and you can safely bet that they will always be going up.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        @redmondjp No HOA’s in Indiana for us common folks. Maybe in some of the few gated communities.

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      A house can be an anchor as well as a money pit, especially if you get caught in a down market. Don’t be too anxious to dive in unless you plan to nest and start a family. You’re young, single, and not even sure where you’re going to be working – give yourself a few years to figure that stuff out before you buy a house.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I hear ya on the ‘anchor’ aspect. My (serious) gf is in medical school in Indiana, which just so happens to have a strong biomedical industry presence, namely orthopedic implants. She might end up moving around within the state in the next two years, but after that residency might have her going just about any hospital in the US depending on where she gets in. I like the concept of building wealth by paying off a mortgage rather than just spending money on rent, but the more I crunch numbers, the less simple it is. I hope moderators don’t mind us turning this into “The Truth About Housing” :P

  • avatar
    Mr. K

    FWIW have folks checked rock auto for hard to find parts. They often have what I need…
    http://www.rockauto.com

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Roackauto has been a godsend for many a hard to find part for the MPV, that’s where I found my replacement air shocks at a very fair price. There are also situations in which an impossibly expensive OEM part (for example, a $1k non-rebuildable driveshaft) has been worked around through some improvisation. We fit an aftermarket u-joint rebuild kit to the driveshaft, which as a result is then unbalanced, then I put the car up on jackstands, put it in gear, and used two hoseclamps to minimize the vibration through trial and error. Worked out great, not quite ‘as good as new’ but for $35 for the u joint plus $3 for hoseclamps I can live with it.

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    Those first-gen MPV’s are surprisingly good cars. The interior layout with the flat floors is excellent and the car is designed to be serviced by African bush mechanics with only two screwdrivers and 10, 12 & 14mm wrenches. I bought my MPV for a song with the intention of just plugging up the oil leaks and flipping it, but ended up liking it so much I kept it.

    You won’t save that much money in gas unless you’re driving over 20 thousand miles a year, and anything you might save in repairs you’ll pay out in depreciation, finance charges and insurance premiums.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “The interior layout with the flat floors is excellent and the car is designed to be serviced by African bush mechanics with only two screwdrivers and 10, 12 & 14mm wrenches.”

      Assuming this isn’t sarcasm, I am impressed with Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Well the floor isn’t totally flat, there’s a step by the rear axle as in most conventional solid rear axle rwd cars and SUVs. It’s not as space efficient as a modern fwd minivans, but it’s also a good bit more durable and easier to work on. I’d say it’s comparable to a large SUV in terms of total passenger room. The third row is usable but not as roomy as say a new Odyssey or Sienna.

        While it’s no Soviet Lada or Zaporozhets (my standards of simple and easy to maintain construction) the Mazda is pretty darn easy to wrench on. Spark plugs are a breeze, timing belt isn’t bad at all. Accessory belts are all individually driven and manually tensioned, and I see that as a virtue rather than a vice. If one belt breaks, the other accessories aren’t affected. Needless to say I drive with a full complement of tools and spare belts and fluids, as well as a ‘McGuyver’ kit of chicken wire and duct tape. Coil Sprung rear axle with auto load leveling is pretty simple, sure the air shocks wear out after 10 years but it’s a cheap and easy job to replace them. Front end is a beefed up McPherson strut setup. 18 valve SOHC V6 with a pretty low compression ratio, it’s a real dog hauling around 4000+lbs but has no real deadly design flaws. The few hard jobs on these cars are dropping the oil pan (obstructed by subframe) and changing a starter on the 4wd models (it’s on the backside of the engine, neglected MPVs get oil leaks and the oil gets on the starter).

  • avatar
    Mark_Miata

    My experience from years of driving crap cars as a graduate student is that the solution is to have more than one vehicle available in case you have to be someplace. Your MPV sounds more like a hobby car than something to rely on long-term, but if you like it (and since you know its history), having another vehicle around just in case it does not run makes sense.

    That backup car can be something fun – I used a 1977 Triumph Spitfire for years as a backup car, and then as a daily driver after I did some mechanical upgrades. If you have a car you’ve always wanted, and you have somewhere to park it, two beater cars can be a good solution that is cheaper than one new reliable car.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      The ‘backup beater’ occured to me, I was thinking a hooptie GM A-body (Cutlass Ciera and its ilk), but then I realized that I don’t want to make auto mechanics a part time job! And for long trips it just makes it less nerve racking to not be going down the highway in a state of paranoia listening for new noises and imagining vibrations and smells. From what I understand, most decent apartment complexes frown upon tenants wrenching on their rides in the parking lot… however the run down craphole my brother was living in for a while was totally fine with him doing some serious engine work (pulling a head) right outside.

  • avatar
    AMC_MatadorX

    gtemnykh,

    Hopefully you read this…I own basically the same vehicle, mine is a 96 4wd LX,(No factory leveler air-shocks so much stiffer/taller rear springs!)and although it does require its maintenance, I LOVE the van. Mine is also a family hand down (grandmother bought it new), and honestly, I can’t see EVER getting rid of it.

    Anyone that tells you these vans are junk/you should sell it/give up on repairs is an idiot. Barring the eventual failure of the tranny, there is no reason you should give up on your van. Even then, throw down $1500 for a rebuild and keep going. WAY cheaper than another car! These things are INCREDIBLY resilient, ours was run in east coast winters for 8 straight years and developed ZERO surface rust. With NOTHING but timing belt/fluid changes/preventative maintenance items we made it all the way to 217k. I just hit 229,000 today on mine, and she runs strong, original drive-shaft/tranny/engine and all!

    I hope you know about the mpvclub.com forums, I am a member there (username timoboy)and am always around to answer any questions that come up with these vans..I know them very well at this point. Please feel free to PM me there for any help you may need with your van/where to get cheap parts, etc. I have access to pick a parts FULL of MPVs, anything you cannot find I should be able to..cheap!

    I note people complaining that these vehicles at the 10-14 year old point become maintenance intensive…I am sorry what planet are they living on that most vehicles are not…esp minivans which rarely get the treatment they deserve. The MPV has an engine that while may tick (just a sign that the oil system is actually too good!) will run FOREVER..200k..300k..400k..450k all have been done!

    The MAIN key with these things is the timing belts, they need to be done regularly, 60K means 60K. You need to replace ALL pulleys, belt, cam seals every change, and the hydraulic tensioner and tensioner pulley bushing every second change. That $6 bushing (At the Mazda dealer) is THE MOST important part of the belt change. Do not neglect it, or your new belt will be in shreds within 20k as it grinds against the block!

    That said, this is such a resilient engine that of course, it is NON interference, so forget to change the belt, all that happens is you are stuck. New belt and she will spring back to life!

    My other main tip for you would be to purchase a new distributor if you have not already replaced yours. 97-98 MPVs have a habit of killing their distributors at 150-175k. Throw a spare in the back with a 12mm, you will be happy to have it when it inevitably dies far from home, and you find it is a special order part from parts stores or $700 from the dealer! Takes 5 mins tops to change out.

    Keep your PV alive man, ours came VERY close to getting taken by cash for clunkers for want of a timing belt, they are fast fading cars that everyone seems to write off a POS vans. NO ONE seems to grasp that they were the first reliable minivans that paved the way for the utility vehicles we take for granted today. In 1996 if you wanted a minivan, you had a choice between domestic JUNK that would barely make 80k (Crycrap vans, ford tranny eaters, GMs brand engineered spacevans) the overpriced and somewhat problematic Previa (working on an engine inside the car?!?! and the MPV, a vehicle that from 96-98 models has a BULLETPROOF engine, tranny that lasts well over 200k as I can personally attest, and is packaged to look like a SUV but function like a van, all while providing EIGHT inches of ground clearance and great off road capabilities in 4wd trim. What is not to love!


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